Researchers from University of Manchester recently announced that David Beckham has “poshed up” his accent since moving the the United States (pun probably intended). Given that Beckham is one of the biggest sports stars in the world, it’s fairly easy to independently confirm or refute the validity such impressions. For reference, here is an interview with a young Beckham in 1994:
And here is a video of Beckham discussing the end of his L.A. Galaxy career:
Obviously, a number of things seem to have changed about Beckham’s speech in the intervening years. In the first minute or so of the 1994 interview, he pronounces the word “like” with a glottal-stop for /k/, a very Cockney feature which he would probably avoid in the U.S. In 1994, he likewise pronounces the word “about” with a vowel that is close to a monophthong (“abaht“), while in America, he pronounces similar words like “proud” and “around” with a diphthong (əɹæʊnd or əɹaʊnd). Connoisseurs of Cockney will find other changes, I’m sure.
General American English is a rather conservative accent, to the extent that GenAm vowels arguably resemble early-to-mid-20th-Century Received Pronunciation vowels somewhat more closely than, say, Cockney’s do. So I think what the researchers may be getting at here is that by accommodating slightly to American speech patterns, Beckham is in some sense bringing his accent more in line with RP.
But I’m not so sure this always equates to “poshness.” For example, one of the markers the researchers studied was the rate at which Beckham drops his h’s:
The research revealed that David dropped the H in words such as “him” and “has” 80% of the time before the move to the US, but only 20% of the time afterwards.
Mr Boorman said it was “clear that Becks, once a broader Cockney, nowadays speaks with more of a standard English accent”.
“In fact, he’s even hyper-correcting himself, because he puts Hs into words when it’s not really required – in America, they use the H sound more, which explains how he acquired it.
“But my guess is that his dropping of those Cockney vowels was linked to his ambassadorial role for the Olympics and his subsequent high social status.”
It’s worth pointing out that h-dropping is not quite the working-class shibboleth in London that it once was. The great Paul Kerswill pointed this out in a lecture two years ago, in reference to Multicultural British English. In 21st-Century London, in fact, one could argue that h-dropping is becoming more passé than “lower-class.”
Regardless, it’s interesting to note the points in which “Americanizing” one’s speech equates to “poshing it up.” Has anyone followed Beckham’s speech enough over the years to comment?